DEREK LAWRENSON: Unspeakable greed leaves indelible stain on Mickelson

DEREK LAWRENSON: Phil Mickelson revealed his dark side in car crash interview and gave up his revered status to play in Saudi Arabia… unspeakable greed leaves an indelible stain on his legacy

  • Phil Mickelson sparked outrage with swipe at ‘obnoxious greed’ of the PGA Tour
  • Californian decided to play in Saudi Arabia last week instead of Pebble Beach
  • He was accused of being more interested in image rights than human rights 
  • The 51-year-old has recovered from the fall-out of controversies in the past

From hero to zero in just under nine months. From rewriting the history books and filling them with one of the great sporting stories of the last decade to a car-crash interview that was right up there on the calamity scale with Emily Maitlis’s natter with the Duke of York.

Who knows to what extent the legacies of a corps of fine golfers will be tarnished when they’ve finished digging deep in the Saudi money pit, but we now know this for sure — Phil Mickelson has damaged his irrevocably.

Why, Phil? Why?

Six-time major champion Mickelson hit out at the PGA Tour’s ‘obnoxious greed’

Was there a golfer anywhere who read his astonishing Golf Digest interview last week, railing against the ‘obnoxious greed’ of the PGA Tour, and wasn’t left thinking: Seriously? The tour where you’ve made $100million in prize money and have a pension pot of at least twice that amount?

How on earth did he think he could swing that one, PR-wise? I’m going to hazard a guess that the prevailing view chimed with the chorus I got from my friends on the first tee on Saturday morning: ‘What a greedy b******!’

Even his peers turned on him. Brooks Koepka didn’t need 140 characters to say all he needed to in a devastating tweet that sets up their next pairing nicely: ‘DK (don’t know) if I’d be using the word greedy if I were Phil.’

Brooks Kopeka (left) took a sly dig at Mickelson (right) following his ‘greed’ comments

Koepka took to Instagram to call out the 51-year-old following his complaints about the Tour

Former PGA Tour pro Brandel Chamblee is the voice of the Golf Channel in America and was so incensed he penned an excoriating piece on their website, complete with an intro of which any journalist would be proud: ‘Phil Mickelson cares a lot about his media rights but apparently not so much about human rights.’

He went on to forensically skewer Mickelson’s beef that players should possess their own media rights, even though there’s not a major sports league anywhere that could possibly operate that way.

As Chamblee pointed out, what television network is going to pay hundreds of millions of dollars for broadcast rights, only to compete with Tiger and Phil running their own highlights on their own channel?

The PGA Championship winner has reportedly made a staggering $800m in career earnings

What lends this tawdry avarice a poignant air is what happened at the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island last May, where Mickelson became the first fiftysomething to win a major.

How we revelled in the stories of his commitment, his diet and stirring examples of that incomparable short game. Adding to the sadness is the fact that the PGA Tour event last week just happened to be the Pebble Beach pro-am.

Now I’ve never cared much for events featuring six-hour rounds, but this is where Phil has enjoyed the most success of all, winning five times, in an area of the nation where he is held in what can only be described as a state of reverence. And he gave it all up to play in Saudi Arabia and reveal a piece of his character that we had rather not known about?

Mickelson smiles after flouting a golf rule by hitting a moving ball at the 2018 US Open

We’ve seen the dark side before, of course. There was the infamous press conference in the aftermath of the 2014 Ryder Cup defeat at Gleneagles, where he threw USA captain Tom Watson under a bus.

Not to mention the arrogance he demonstrated playing hockey on the 13th green in the 2018 US Open at Shinnecock Hills, while making his point about the flag location, that should have led to a disqualification.

He recovered from any fallout on both occasions to restore his legend at the PGA. This, though, feels different. There’s something about unspeakable greed that just leaves an indelible stain.

I cannot recall the last time I heard a top pro rave about a young player to the extent that Australian Adam Scott did in Abu Dhabi recently about the Dane Nicolai Hojgaard.

As he showed in winning for the second time on the DP World Tour in the UAE on Sunday, when it comes to the prodigiously gifted 20-year-old, there’s an awful lot to rave about.

But a word of caution that applies equally to his identical twin Rasmus — who has won three times — came in the identity of the first-round leader at the Saudi International, which was being staged an hour’s flight away.

Nicolai Hojgaard won for the second time on the DP World Tour in the UAE on Sunday

At a younger age than the Hojgaards, Italian Matteo Manassero had won four times on tour, including the flagship event, the BMW PGA at Wentworth.

Now 28, his status is so low he will be lucky to get two or three starts on the regular tour this season. Predictably, he faded in Saudi following his blistering 62, finishing in a tie for 28th.

Every instinct suggests a kinder fate awaits the Hojgaards, particularly Nicolai. But even with five wins between them before their 21st birthdays, there are clearly no guarantees.

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